I Used to Love H.E.R.: Chris Schlarb

Hey, when it rains it pours. The 17th installment – and third in about a week – of I Used to Love H.E.R. comes from Chris Schlarb, founder/owner of Sounds Are Active record label and a member of experimental/indie-jazz duo I Heart Lung, which is playing TONIGHT at Stinkweeds in Phoenix with Bizzart and James Fella at 8 p.m.

Beneath the Surface (Alpha Pup, 1998)

“The last iPod I had was possessed by Beneath the Surface. The opening flute lines of the title track would creep out of the miniature jukebox even when turned off. Phoenix Orion’s voice would then bleed out from the speakers with an announcement of the genius/genus to follow.

“By 1998 I had already ingested some of the best of what the East Coast had to offer: Midnight Marauders, Blowout Comb, Illmatic, Do You Want More?!!!??!, et al. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, as Ice Cube recycled every Parliament vamp, Omid Walizadeh (then OD) was sampling Iranian folk music, melodic jazz vibes and “Swelling Itching Brain”-ish keyboard basslines. Having come of age listening to King Crimson, Genesis, Run-DMC and Arrested Development, I found in Beneath the Surface something that both provoked and reassured me.

“With his production revered by all MC’s at the legendary open mic spot Goodlife, Omid then participated in the classic hip-hop quid pro quo: you rap for my beat and I’ll produce a beat for your raps. He quickly assembled a diverse cast of hungry and highly experimental lyricists unfettered by hip-hop’s lineage. Absent are the Spoonie Gee or Funky 4+1 name drops indigenous to East Coast raps, the MC’s assembled here are more concerned with meta-African folk-tales (“When The Sun Took A Day Off”) or running together hominid-centric pop culture references as done on Circus’s hilariously brilliant four minute verse which ends stunning “Farmer’s Market of the Beast.”

“Like all masterpieces Beneath the Surface is burnished by repeated examination. From the brutal “Night and Day” which samples Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “The Barbarian” to the quintessential L.A. chill-out back beat of “Line Posting In ‘Pedro,” Omid balances melody, avant-garde composition and extrasolar lyricism with seeming familiarity: you think you’ve heard something like this before.

“For connoisseurs of underground hip-hop this album also happens to be an underground Rosetta Stone of sorts: Freestyle Fellowship, Awol One, 2Mex, Global Phlowtations (featuring a young Adlib who would later produced Saul Williams under his own name, Thavius Beck), Rakaa Iriscience (of Dilated Peoples) and Radioinactive among many, many others. When confronted with Omid’s powerful production each rapper rises to the occasion; attempting to both complement and out do one another.

Beneath the Surface is a document of the L.A. youth consciousness at the turn of the century. Full of paranoia and community pride, God and the LAPD, rocking shows and self doubt. Interestingly it would prove to be greater than the sum of its parts and many of the MC’s involved would never make kind of lasting impact that they collectively manifest here.

“I never did figure out what was wrong with my iPod. My only guess is that, as with me, something Beneath the Surface took over. At any given moment you might recollect a drum break or lyric and then suddenly, as P.E.A.C.E. illuminates, you are in its clutches. Word is bondage indeed.”

  • Omid | Line Posting in ‘Pedro
  • Omid | Farmers Market of the Beast

Beneath the Surface can be had at eMusic.

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